Sunday, May 05, 2002

Jockey atones for '01

Espinoza rides winner, earns Baffert's praise

By Neil Schmidt,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jockey Victor Espinoza, aboard War Emblem, is triumphant as he wins the 128th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
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        LOUISVILLE — A year ago, Victor Espinoza had disappointed Bob Baffert in the Kentucky Derby. It was Espinoza's first Derby, but Baffert didn't like Espinoza's ride aboard Congaree and subsequently pulled the jockey from the mount.

        Saturday was a heck of a way to atone.

        The 29-year-old rider from Mexico City, who had taken his first look at War Emblem the day of the race, guided the colt to a wire-to-wire Derby triumph.

        “It was like a dream?” Baffert asked Espinoza afterward.

        “I feel like I was sleeping,” Espinoza answered.

        Espinoza likened the ride Saturday to a blind date. Baffert woke him up early with a call to come to the barn and take the horse for a jog.

        Baffert praised Espinoza's careful control of the pace, keeping his horse in the lead but not burning him out early.

        “For a young rider like that, he really showed so much poise today,” Baffert said.

        Congaree finished third in the 2001 Derby. After losing that mount, Espinoza picked up A.P. Valentine, guiding him to second-place finishes in the Belmont and Preakness.

        PRINCELY SUM: Prince Ahmed Salman got quite a return on his investment.

        The prince, a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family, heads the Thoroughbred Corp., which bought 90 percent interest in War Emblem on April 10 for more than $900,000. That horse won $875,000 Saturday for the Derby, and the Illinois Derby folks awarded a $1 million bonus reserved for any horse that wins their event and a Triple Crown race.

        “All the way down, the prince kept saying, "Please, Bob, pinch me. Is this really happening?”' Baffert said. “After he won, he said, "Can we do this again?”'

        Prince Ahmed was in an unspoken race with Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum of Godolphin Racing to become the first Arab stable to win the Derby.

        “Anybody in their right mind would have bought this horse if they were able to,” the prince said.

        SPRINGER REACTS: Frank Springer, the former trainer of War Emblem, expressed pleasure with the colt's win. And not just because Baffert had promised to split his share of the $1 million Illinois bonus.

        “I'm tickled to death for that horse,” Springer said. “There is still a lot of pride in it for me. This is like having one of your children succeed.”

        LATE SCRATCH: Danthebluegrassman was scratched from the Derby by Baffert when the colt developed back spasms after a Saturday morning jog.

        “It's like a muscle tightening,” Baffert said. “If you don't get on it right away, it could injure him. He could tear a muscle in his back. We had to give him some muscle relaxers, and you can't run a horse after you give them all that.”

        With Buddha scratching Friday, this marked the first time since 1962 that two or more Derby starters had defected from the race after entering.
       CROWD SMALLER: Saturday's crowd of 145,033 was the fifth-largest in Derby history, though it was down considerably from the 154,210 at last year's race. That total was the second-largest in Derby history; the record is 163,628 at the 100th running in 1974.


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Coming up this week

And, they're off! Race for quarterback is on
First-year players impress on first day
Bengals Q&A w/Mark Curnutte
Spurrier already making mark
Studley returns to his coaching roots
Middletown boys roll in Roosevelt meet
Cincinnati highlites
Baseball results
Softball results
Tennis results
Track results
Giants 3, Reds 0
Reds box, runs
Reds Q&A with John Fay
Fay's MLB power ratings
Notes: Injured pitchers close to returning
A ballplayer's journey
Cinergy Countdown
On the farm
Bonds gets No. 400 as a Giant
MLB: Stottlemeyer on DL
Baseball insider
AL roundup
NL roundup
Notes from Saturday's games